Editors' introduction: Australian industrial relations in transition

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Wilkinson, Adrian
Bailey, Janis
Mourell, Mark
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2009
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Abstract

Australia's industrial relations system has long been hailed as distinctive in the international arena, although it shares many commonalities with the systems of other countries. This introduction contextualises the articles in this issue, by describing first the birth and development of the system, and secondly the system's most recent and arguably most tumultuous 10 years. The introduction concludes with a pr飩s of the various articles in this special issue. Australia's industrial relations system developed as a hybrid system that set a floor of minimum standards via awards, which provided widespread protection for many workers, including the most vulnerable, but also enabled collective bargaining where unions had sufficient market power. Australia's central, and most distinctive, institutional actor, the arbitration commission, was insulated from direct political interference and was independent in its judgments, although it was required to take into account the views of employers and unions-and government-in making its decisions. In some respects, the history of the Australian industrial relations system is a history of the rise and then fall of Australia's arbitration system. It is the state's institutional architecture that has altered most dramatically, particularly in very recent years, while the roles of unions, large employers and employer associations in industrial relations have undergone evolutionary but not so startling change. The trajectory of changing industrial relations (IR) regulation in Australia can be simplified into three periods: a long period known as 'the Australian settlement', for most of the 20th century (1904-82), followed by a quasi-corporatist system under a Federal Labor government (1983-96) and then a neoliberal roll-out (1996-2007) under a Liberal (conservative) government. An Australian Labour Party (ALP) government, elected in November 2007 with a strong policy platform of rolling back recent conservative-led changes is, at the time of writing, comprehensively amending industrial laws-not to the extent that many in the union movement would prefer, but probably to a greater extent than most employers and their associations would like.

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Industrial Relations Journal
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40
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5
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© 2009 Wiley-Blackwell Publishing. This is the author-manuscript version of the paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.The definitive version is available at www.interscience.wiley.com
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Economics
Commerce, management, tourism and services
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